Is this how to write ancestry posts …… “From Shoemaker to Soldier”?

Enough of tin mines, enough of Cornwall and my mother’s “Waters” family history, time for my dad’s genealogy and the “Metters” family history! Time to delve into Devon and Durham, Cordwainers and Tailors ….. timeline ….. 1790 to 1947 ….. the year I was born (1947!).

The Cordwainer’s Tale (1790-1861)

A Cordwainer is/was a shoemaker, someone who makes new shoes from new leather and not to be confused with a cobbler who was mostly a mender of shoes but who was permitted to make shoes but only from OLD leather! Note the word “permitted”, this was the rule of the guild of The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, granted their royal charter in 1439 but having been “incorporated” much earlier in 1272. Their patron saint is St Crispin, with St Crispin’s day being on October 25th which is also the date of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415!

James Metters was a Cordwainer and my Great x3 Grandfather, born in 1790 in Black Torrington, Devon, England. He married Ann Gale in Whitchurch, Devon, in 1815 and they had 3 sons. William was an Agricultural Labourer, James apprenticed with his dad and also became a Cordwainer. However it is the youngest son Jonathan who continues our Metters family Tale next!

The Tailor’s Tale (1821-1904)

A guild is/was a protective association of craftsmen or merchants who controlled the apprenticeship, membership and quality of goods they made and sold. They had real authority with the power  to determine the flow of trade and even the ownership of tools of the trade. Most English Guilds systems date back to Norman times and originated in London, but individual towns soon created their own equivalents with guild associations for weavers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, carpenters, tailors to name but a few. The patron saint of tailors is Saint Homobonus.

Jonathan Metters was a Tailor, and my Great x2 Grandfather, born in 1821 in Whitchurch, Devon. He married Emma Strike in 1845 and they lived all of their lives in Tavistock, Devon. They had 8 children of which 2 were daughters. The third youngest son, Reginald, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a tailor but there are four interesting facts to be researched further. First, when Jonathan died in 1904, he left all his money, £800, (2019 value approximately £95,000) to a grocer in London. Second, his oldest daughter married a miner from Durham who died a hero. Third, Jonathan is recorded as being deaf, though not from birth in the 1861 Census ….. How did that happen? Fourth, middle son Henry was a “Grocer Boy” at the age of 12 years, but for some reason leaves Devon and continues the family tale.

The Innkeeper’s Tale (1849-1934)

In medieval times, innkeeper was one of the most prestigious and profitable occupations. Inns had bedrooms, dining rooms and a tavern or alehouse. The tradition continued through Victorian times and into the 1900s when becoming an Innkeeper was a popular choice for men who retired from hard physical occupations such as mining, or agricultural labour or navvies who built railways or ships or canals. The patron saint of innkeepers is St Martin de Porres.

Henry Metters was my Great Grandfather, born in Devon in 1849, a Grocer Boy at the age of 12. However he suddenly emerges as an Iron Ore Miner in Brotton, Yorkshire in the 1871 Census, but 2 years later he marries Maria in Easington, Durham. The next two Census records, 1881 and 1891, record him as a Coal Miner in Shildon, Durham. However it seems that for the rest of his working life he was an Innkeeper in Dock Street East, Monkwearmouth, Durham. The name of the inn is yet to be researched, but it no longer exists and there are two possibilities. Henry had 4 sons, a stepson, and one daughter. The second youngest son was James, who was working “down a coal mine” when he was 13 years old and who continues our family tale.

The Coal Miner’s Tale (1878-1948)

If steam was the “power” behind the Industrial Revolution in England, then clearly coal was its fuel. Coal mining expanded all over England, Derbyshire , Kent, Gloucestershire and especially in the north east county of Durham to feed blast furnaces, canal barges, water pumps in mines and locomotives. Without coal to slake the thirst of these engines and the bravery and physical strength of the men who burrowed their way towards the depths of hell there would have been no revolution! Their patron saint is Saint Barbara who must have been very busy!

James Metters was my Grandfather, born in 1878 in Sunderland, a coal miner for ALL his working life from at least the age of 13! James had 4 sons and one daughter with the youngest son, Martin, being my father. I never met my grandparents on this side of the family, my dad never talked about them either, he was a very “silent” man.

The Soldier’s Tale (1915-1982)

The Coldstream Guards are the oldest continuous regiment in the British Army, having been formed in 1650 at the request of General Monck who got permission from Oliver Cromwell. They were the original New Model Army and have been engaged in campaigns and battles such as Waterloo where they famously defended the chateau of Hougoumont, and Dunkirk in WW2. Their motto is “nulli secundus” second to none!

Martin Metters, born in 1915, was my dad and I know very little about him from conversations or personal experience. I do know he was a coal miner for a short time before he entered military service. By the age of 20 he was in The Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion, and based at Windsor Castle! It was the 1st Battalion of The Guards who defended the escape from Dunkirk and who were the last to the beaches …. He was 24 years old! I wrote about home earlier here My Dad Wore a Bright Red Jacket

A Right Way?

So, is there a right way to write blog articles on family history? Hopefully I’m not about to lose a lot of friends …… but I believe there is! I assume that the family history blog purpose is to attract followers and engage with fellow family researchers, and is NOT to merely record family data. We do the latter in our notebooks, paper or digital, and on websites in the cloud such as or on the desktop with a suitable offline programme. Surely we write blog articles to engage and discuss findings, content, contexts etc with others, or to write tips and hints to help others, or the converse which is to seek help on something. And yet I come across many blogs which drone on through quite uninteresting facts with very little story or historical context to them.

Now, I’m sure I have upset a few people, followers even, and I don’t mean too. I try really hard to write interesting history stuff about my ancestors related to the politics of their era, the economics, the technology changes and therefore the social consequences they had to face. Not everybody does it that way, but many follow almost a biblical approach such as the way “begat” is first mentioned in Gen. 4:18: “And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.” It makes me smile every time I think of this when I’m reading a few blogs, but I also want to thank everyone who writes such engaging comments on my own blog. I must be getting something right, unless you tell me otherwise!




Categories: 1800s, 1900s, Devon, Family History, Metters

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. You have turned into Chaucer!
    I am certain that your approach is the right one. Readers want to know the emotional impact of family discovery!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The word count was short compared to the great number of intriguing tidbits. Certainly left me with a need for more – so the link to prior, was appreciated. Must be the right way!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must confess that I opened your post looking for ideas on how to take my ancestry research from recording facts to telling a story. However, I soon became captivated by Cordwainers and guilds! It may have been your own personal history but it kept me reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whilst I totally agree with fhninja on the issue of creating unreliable ‘instant’ family histories from sites such as Ancestry and the like, your articles actually inspire a different viewpoint on family history research. I believe I’ve mentioned before that your concept of including social history in writing up a family tree makes it far more interesting to a reader and it’s something I’m endeavouring to do. The fact that I look forward to reading your blogs which have no connection whatsoever with my family is proof enough that they are captivating.
    I look forward to more blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I agree with fhninja too, but reliability and attractiveness are quite different features of a post. The first is essential to all research, the second is only necessary if you want folks to read what you’ve written!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Now I can’t find YOUR blog! What’s the url? All I keep getting is avatar.


  5. Yes, this was an interesting post! Thank you. Plus, it’s so good to say that I now know the difference between a cobbler and a cordwainer.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As someone feeling a little like this is aimed at some of my recent posts… I’d point out that sometimes details are needed; in this current era of big data and fake news I feel very strongly that assumptions made by those researching family history need to be recorded.

    Just look on Ancestry – the “cut and paste” of facts between trees that come without any sources (and in some cases evidence of any rational thought!). “Ancestry Family Trees” is not a valid source; it’s at best a hint, at worse someone’s wishful thinking!

    Some of my posts may be a little dry, and lacking in the social history angle, but I believe sometimes the how we made that connection also need to be captured. The quality of research could be considered just as important. After all, cool stories about your ancestors are great, but they have *to be* your ancestors… or we could all just pack this in and read Jane Austin!

    There isn’t anyone checking our homework on this so peer review is invaluable; and review is only going to work by looking at the ‘workings out’. To my mind, its vital to record the approach taken and assumptions made, so they can be assessed and challenged where necessary.

    I hope my family tree research will be handed down to future generations, I want them to trust in the data put forward, I want them to know that it’s well researched and documented; given the data and tools available to me at this time.

    Good research techniques are not only a crucial part of family history, they are what’s needed to fight this ‘fake news’ culture. You can’t (yet) just log in and have your family tree done for you by computer. The data isn’t there – it’s still locked away in archives, and what is there is ‘dirty’. Yes, new technologies will help, but it doesn’t detract from the requirement for critical thinking, good research practices and a strongly disciplined approach to documentation.

    (I’ll now get off my soap-box!)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Don’t worry about soap boxes, I have quite a few too! I agree with everything you say about research, verification, documentation etc. But I am differentiating between meticulous research documenting evidence …. and …. writing a blog that interests and engages. The post I wrote today was an example, I have loads of data behind that post, but that’s written up separately for my family. However I appreciate your taking the time to write and respect your own view totally.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe it’s the academic in me, or the engineer, but I find the insights into the “meticulous research” just as interesting as the findings.

        I’ve been doing this for well over 15 years, and want to try and promote (if not help to educate those new to the field) the best techniques to achieve reliable research. Ancestry and the other sites encourage bad habits, which breed dodgy assumptions.

        And people blog for lots of different reasons, not all of us are looking for “Fortune or Glory” like Indiana Jones! 😉


  7. First, let me say how much I’ve enjoyed your blogs about Cornwall. My maternal grandmother grew up there although she had been born in New Zealand in 1885, and she emigrated to Canada in 1912. No tin miners in her family, though. As for this blog, I appreciate your comments about writing family histories; lists of begats don’t interest me. I’m more interested in the skeletons in the closet (what family doesn’t have at least one of those?) plus all the idiosyncratic personalities that make family histories truly interesting. Great idea to borrow from Chaucer for your headings — I loved it. finally, St. Martin de Porres — there’s a high school in Airdrie AB named after him. Don’t think they’re turning out many innkeepers, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Margaret, a much appreciated comment. Strange to find someone from Cornwall with no mining family, fishermen or smugglers maybe!


  8. “Saint Homobonus”? Now there’s a name for you!

    This was an interesting way to come down through the generations along your paternal line and focus on how they made their living. Quite an enjoyable read. I always prefer family history stories that ARE stories, not recitations of facts. I think the 52 Ancestors prompts help a lot of people in that regard.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with putting a life history out there, but it will generally be of interest only to relatives. I know that I still include too much detail in some of my pieces, but blogging is a learning process.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To be honest Eilene its the sort of thing that puts me off following a lot of blogs. It’s very easy to click and follow hundreds of blogs, but I only have around 20 I follow because I genuinely like reading their posts. Often I follow someone, then a month later give up and remove them from my list. Rest assured you’re still on it👍😂

      Liked by 1 person


  1. What would YOU have done as the mine flooded? – Buddha walks into a bar …
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